New Debris-Tracking ‘Space Fence’ Passes Key Test
A prototype “space fence” designed to track Earth’s burgeoning orbital debris population passed a key test recently, locking onto objects in a demonstration run. The radar system, which is being developed by aerospace firm Lockheed Martin for the United States Air Force, has successfully detected orbiting space junk, company officials announced.
The Air Force is looking to replace the aging Air Force Space Surveillance System (AFSSS), which it has used since 1961 to track satellites and pieces of space junk — stuff like old rocket bodies, defunct satellites and the pieces spawned when these objects collide. Space junk is a growing problem in Earth orbit – NASA estimates that our planet’s debris cloud contains about 22,000 pieces as large as a softball and 500,000 bigger than a marble. The number of pieces at least 1 millimeter wide likely runs into the hundreds of millions. All of this fast-moving junk poses a threat to the 1,000 or so operational satellites currently zipping around our planet, as well as the International Space Station and other crew-carrying craft.